What does an empty bottle of concentrated orange juice have
to do with colonialism? Some of you may remember the Welfare Orange Juice that the
British government provided to pregnant women and young children from the
middle of the Second World War until 1971. But most would quickly pass by this
relic of the 1960s on a market stall. I use this remnant of a defunct and
relatively unknown nutritional program to tell the story of the relationship
between the post-war Welfare State and the processes of both colonial
development and decolonization. This “British Thing” was one of millions of
bottles of Welfare Orange Juice that the state initially provided free or well below
cost to vulnerable members of the population as a vitamin C supplement. But in
the post-war period the bottles themselves bore no trace of the fact that their
contents came largely from Jamaica and British Honduras, colonies that had been
encouraged to plant orange trees entirely for the purpose of supplying the British
government with this juice, which had no commercial market and was furnished
only to beneficiaries resident in the United Kingdom. The contract drawn up
with West Indian suppliers was initially cast as a win-win situation: residents
of the British Isles were provided with a much-needed dietary supplement at the
same time as colonial subjects received the benefits of an agricultural
development project. However, the benefit to colonial, and later Commonwealth,
subjects was short-lived. Almost as soon as the newly-planted orange groves
began to yield fruit, the British government attempted to withdraw from its
purchase guarantees, eventually refusing to renew its contracts and then
terminating the program. This bottle of Welfare Orange Juice thus opens up a
more complex narrative of post-war Britain by putting the history of
colonialism and decolonization in conversation with that of the Welfare State.

Free access to this “One British Thing” essay can be found here.

“One British Thing” is a new series in the Journal of British Studies that will
introduce readers to an object that is, or should be, central to British
History. “One British Thing” essays will either present a new reading of a
well-known piece of British material culture or analyze objects that may be
relatively unknown to the journal’s readership but deserve closer
scrutiny.  Contributions to “One British
Thing” can choose to highlight how the study of material culture opens up new
avenues of research, how a seemingly mundane object can tell a larger and more
significant story about the past, and/or how a well-known “thing” can be read
against the grain to reveal alternative or competing narratives of Britishness.

I will be curating this series for JBS and am interested in receiving ideas for submissions from
scholars at any stage of their careers, working in any time period, who would
like to share their “British Things.” As with all submissions to JBS, we welcome a range of disciplinary and
geographically-expansive approaches to the study of Britishness. Please contact
me with any ideas for “One British Thing” essays at [email protected]  

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *